- Height: 28-31.5 inches (male), 25.5-29.5 inches (female)
- Weight: 110-170 pounds (male), 90-140 pounds (female)
- Life Expectancy: 7 years
- Group: Working Group
About the Leonberger
A huge and powerful dog, yes, but the Leonberger is also known for his aristocratic grace and elegance. A male can stand over 31 inches at the shoulder and weigh as much as a full-grown human. Females run smaller but are still a whole lot of dog. Breed hallmarks include a medium-long waterproof coat, lush triangular ears, a bushy tail, and a black facemask that frames kindly dark-brown eyes. A dramatic feature of the male’s coat is the lion-like mane around the neck and chest. A well-built Leo moves with an easy, elastic gait. A Leo is friendly but nobody’s fool. As watchdogs and all-around workers, they exhibit intelligence and sound judgment. Leos require lots of brushing, ample room for romping, and unlimited love.
Unique among the big guys of the AKC Working Group, Leos were developed first and foremost as companions. The breed was the brainchild of Heinrich Essig, a 19th-century politician and entrepreneur of Leonberg, Germany. Utilizing Saint Bernards and Newfoundlands, among other large working breeds, Essig’s goal was to breed a majestic pet for European royalty—truly a dog fit for a king. He succeeded grandly, and such clients as Napoleon III, Tsar Alexander II, and the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) lined up to add this stately companion to their royal courts. Other famous Leonberger owners, aristocrats in spirit if not of blood, have included composers Richard Wagner and Sergei Rachmaninoff, and the Italian patriot Giuseppe Garibaldi. Despite their regal beginnings, Leos have long been employed as versatile working dogs on farms, pastures, and waterfronts. They are surprisingly nimble and make excellent swimmers. A specialty of the breed is cart pulling, an activity that provides an enjoyable outlet for their prodigious strength.
A high-quality brand of dog food appropriate to the Leo’s age (puppy, adult, or senior) will have all the nutrients the breed needs. It is important to not overfeed the young Leonberger, as an overweightpuppy or young dog of large breeds especially can be more prone to developing structural problems. And as with humans, too many treats can lead to obesity. Be careful to avoid giving table scraps, and especially avoid cooked bones and foods with high fat content.
Leonbergers shed a lot—and twice a year, they shed even more. A Leo should be brushed every day, especially in the areas of his body that tend to mat: the long hair behind the ears and on the backs of the legs. A more thorough grooming should be done once a week—and given the breed’s size, this will take a fair amount of time. Leos have a thick, full outer coat and a shorter, fluffier undercoat. A metal comb and an undercoat rake can be used to work out the undercoat, and a pin brush and a slicker brush will neaten up the outer coat. In addition, a Leo’s nailsshould be trimmed every other week.
If you live in a city apartment or a house on a small, suburban lot, this may not be the breed for you. Adult Leonbergers are generally calm and subdued, but they still need to have some vigorous exercise once a day. Puppies and adolescents are active and exuberant. They can benefit from jogging or hiking with their owner or keeping pace alongside a bicycle. A large yard with a tall, strong fence is the ideal place for a Leo to run around. Remember, these are working dogs. Drafting—that is, pulling a cart—and agility training are two good ways for a Leo to get the activity he or she needs.
Leonbergers are very large and strong. In addition, puppies and adolescents have loads of energy and are extremely enthusiastic. With these facts in mind, proper training of the breed is essential. Leo puppies should be socialized by being gently exposed to a wide range of people, animals, and settings before the age of 20 weeks. Group obedience classes will help a Leo learn to be a well-mannered companion and canine citizen. A Leo is probably stronger than and may even outweigh his owner, and it is imperative that he learns to do what you want him to do.
As with all canines, proper exercise and nutrition, routine vet exams, and parasite prevention are keys to a happy and healthy life. Large dogs such as Leos can be prone to bloat,where the stomach twists and gas is trapped inside. Bloat can quickly be fatal, and it is important to know its signs, such as drooling, restlessness, enlarged abdomen, and attempts to vomit. If your breeder knows that bloat has occurred in your Leo’s bloodline, consider the preventative measure of having your dog’s stomach surgically tacked to the abdominal wall.